The swing-and-miss. The last out. The glove hurled off his hand in unbridled elation. Daniel Hudson's performance in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, closing out the Nationals' first championship in franchise history, is etched in baseball lore.
It’s the kind of moment players can rest their laurels on for entire careers. But as he prepared for his 11th Major League season, the 33-year-old said in Spring Training one of his goals was “showing that what I did last year wasn’t a fluke.”
Hudson arrived at Nationals Park for Summer Camp in July with the same mentality.
“It’s always something that’s on my mind,” Hudson said on Monday. “I’ve always wanted to prove that I can be here for the long run. To repeat what I did last year, that would be amazing.”
In 2019, the righty pitched to a 3-0 record, posted a career-best 1.44 ERA and finished 14 games across 25 innings in 24 regular-season appearances after the Nats acquired him from the Blue Jays. This winter, he signed a two-year deal to rejoin the back end of an enhanced bullpen that also includes veterans Sean Doolittle and Will Harris.
When Spring Training was cancelled in March, Hudson returned home to Arizona. He purchased a backyard net and a bucket of 25 baseballs to keep his arm ready; a strength trainer came to his house for kettle bell workouts, and -- when the sun got too hot – he ordered a Peloton bike for indoor cardio. Once Hudson got word baseball was going to resume, he found a catcher to throw off the mound with before reporting for official workouts.
“In my situation [as a reliever], I feel like I can be ready for the regular season,” Hudson said. “I don’t need three or four up-downs to get ready for it like a starter. … I just need a few outings off the mound, probably throw to some hitters a few times and I should be good to go. Now, I can’t tell you how effective I’m going to be because of this whole thing. But physically and everything, I feel fine.”
Hudson is coming off the momentum of last season in which his fastball averaged 96.2 mph -- just shy of his career high, per Statcast -- and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a career-best 5.75. But with a condensed 60-game schedule, Hudson noted a trend in his career he will have to fight against this season. His cumulative ERA in March/April is 5.87, compared to 2.50 in September/October.
“Statistically, I’m not one to jump out of the gates firing,” said Hudson. “In my career, I’ve always -- for whatever reason -- [I] haven’t pitched very well in Spring Trainings and Aprils. I don’t know if the layoff is going to help me or hurt me. Physically, I’m ready to go.”
Hudson said he will pitch as many innings and in as many games as the Nationals ask of him. As the team turns to him for late-game situations, he has his own closer at home. Hudson gave credit to his wife, Sara, for her help in him playing baseball this season. They have three children under the age of 6, and his family did not travel with him to Washington.
“I feel like it’s harder on the spouses than anything,” Hudson said. “They deserve all the credit, not us. We just play baseball. They hold the fort down. They’re rock stars, in my eyes anyways.”
Just as quickly as Hudson threw the final pitch of the World Series, he will be back in game action in 10 days. The Nats host the Yankees for the season opener on July 23, and it’s only a matter of time before Hudson gets the call out of the bullpen.
“I made that joke of, I couldn’t remember the last time I had thrown a breaking ball to a hitter,” Hudson said. “In two weeks, I’ve got to maybe face Aaron Judge in the eighth inning with a lead. So let’s just go get ‘em and just go from there.”